FULTON COUNTY — County officials say they have learned that federal funding to help the homeless will be made available for nonprofits in their county irrespective of whether the county Board of Supervisors formally chooses to participate in the “Continuum of Care” program.
A memo from County Administrator Jon Stead, released to county supervisors on Tuesday, indicates Fulton County has decided to send Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Solar to participate as a member of the “Balance of State Continuum of Care” local planning committee, effectively reversing the board’s decision not to take action on the matter earlier this month. The inaction reflected the desire by some members of the board to avoid additional funding being made available to help the homeless in the county out of fear that more homeless people might move to the area to access the money.
“After additional questioning to state officials, it appears that a county government’s participation on the local COC Planning Committee has no direct bearing on whether or not local agencies can access HUD homeless grants. With or without County DSS representation, local not-for-profits or charitable organizations will still be able to pursue such grants,” Stead wrote in the memo.
Until recently, Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie, Herkimer and Putnam counties were the only New York counties that did not participate in Continuum of Care, a federal program that allows certain non-profit organizations to access U.S. Housing and Urban Development funds earmarked for the homeless.
The program was established in the 1980s, but local counties never chose to opt-in. Most areas in the United States have established Continuum of Care programs to cover their respective regions, and typically, smaller states with only a few major metropolitan areas have established “Balance of State” continuum groups to establish complete coverage for the remainder of the state. New York state this year encouraged formation of a Balance of State continuum to cover Fulton, Montgomery, Schoharie, Herkimer and Putnam counties, but it did not mandate that counties send representatives to participate in the planning committee for the consortium.
In the carefully worded memo issued Tuesday, Stead makes it clear the Fulton County Human Services Committee, on Jan. 29, reached a false understanding as to what would happen if the county chose not to send Solar to participate as a member of the committee. At the Feb. 11 County Board of Supervisors meeting, county leaders opted not to send a county official to participate, in effect sending the message that Fulton County was the only county in the state that was not interested in accessing the funds to help homeless residents.
Stead, in his memo, told the Board of Supervisors he has determined the county is not required to make a policy decision on the matter.
“Therefore, it is my conclusion that participation by Commissioner Solar on the local COC Planning Committee is an administrative function of the Commissioner, rather than a policy decision for the Board of Supervisors to make. Sitting on the panel will at least provide input, along with that of other agencies in the region,” he wrote.
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors had been criticized by some county residents over the issue of homelessness. Jerry Ryan of Gloversville provided board members with details about the county’s homeless population at its Feb. 11 meeting. Specifically, he said there were 547 homeless Fulton County residents, 117 of whom had received services from the county Social Services Department. He added that about 71 percent of the cost of those services is paid for with local property tax levy money.
Ryan had planned to lead a group of other residents concerned about the homeless to the county’s Feb. 26 Human Services Committee meeting to again petition the county to reconsider participation in the federally funded program.
Gloversville 5th Ward Supervisor Greg Young, a Democrat, said he has been a strong supporter of using federal HUD funds to support the homeless, rather than relying on local taxpayer money. He said it is a sad commentary on the state of politics in Fulton County that the Board of Supervisors was unwilling to take a vote on a resolution endorsing the Continuum of Care concept.
“Unfortunately, there is a small minority of people who subscribe to this absurd “Field of Dreams” idea that: If you build it, they will come, with respect to the homeless,” he said. “The truth is we unfortunately have homeless people in our community. Many of them are working people who need help, and it’s better to use federal funding that is available than our own local tax dollars. This is a no-brainer.”